Benjamin R. Bluitt, the first African-American surgeon in Texas, was born on November 15, 1864, to Jarriet and Mariah (Bonner) Bluitt in Mexia, Limestone County, Texas. According to oral tradition, he was actually born in the small community of “Bluittville” between Mexia and Corsicana. His parents were former slaves from Alabama who moved to Texas shortly before Bluitt’s birth. His father, Jarriet, died young, leaving Mariah to raise seven children alone, including Bluitt’s brother, Lyman (who would also become a physician). Bluitt’s primary education was completed in rural Limestone County, possibly at home, and in the 1870s he went to Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, where he is believed to have graduated in 1882. Following Wiley College, Bluitt attended Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee, where he graduated at the age of twenty-one in 1885.
Before moving to Dallas in April 1888, Bluitt practiced clinical work in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City. Although Bluitt was not the first African-American physician in Dallas, he was the first African-American surgeon in the state of Texas. In 1889 Bluitt returned to Nashville to marry Cornelia J. Ford, whom he met while attending Meharry. They were married on December 28, 1889, and quickly returned to Dallas. During the 1890s Bluitt’s mother, Mariah, listed as Maria, also lived with Benjamin and Cornelia. Cornelia was active in the Dallas community and participated in the Colored Literary Society and won several prizes at the Colored State Fair for her culinary entries. The Bluitts did not have children. In 1892 Bluitt began practicing medicine with his younger brother Lyman, advertising as “Bluitt and Bluitt Physicians and Surgeons,” although their partnership was short-lived. In 1894 he opened the Star Pharmacy, which operated until 1897. Bluitt was an active member of the Republican Party in Texas and served as chairman of the Dallas County Executive Committee. Beginning in 1890 he became involved with Dallas real estate and purchased residential and commercial properties downtown, in the North Dallas neighborhood, and in communities outside of Dallas.
Bluitt was also an active member of community and civic affairs for African Americans in Dallas. He was a trustee of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Temple and was a Mason, achieving the position of treasurer of the Negro Masonic Lodge of Texas. He was also a member of several other African-American fraternal organizations, including the Colored Knights of Pythias he was the master of ceremonies at their state convention in 1906. That same year he served as president of the Lone Star State Medical Association, an organization he was active in throughout his career. Additionally, Bluitt was a member of the Dallas Chapter of the National Negro Business League, as well as an investor in the Penny Savings Bank of Dallas, the first African-American-owned financial institution in the city that existed from 1909 to 1912.
In 1906 Bluitt received a license from the state of Texas to operate a sanitarium, called “Bluitt’s Sanitarium,” which was located at 504 Commerce Street in Dallas. He trained nurses at this location in addition to his medical practice. His office and sanitarium remained there until 1914 except for a brief period when he moved the practices to separate locations. Beginning in 1905, Bluitt did postgraduate work every summer in eastern and northern medical centers to keep his surgical skills abreast of the times. Bluitt closed his sanitarium in 1914 and moved his offices to Deep Ellum, which left the African-American community without a hospital facility. In 1916, after completion of the Knights of Pythias Temple in Deep Ellum, Bluitt moved his medical practice into the building.
The Bluitts resided on Flora Street in “North Dallas,” an African American community located northeast of Dallas, for twenty-five years. Around 1918 Bluitt suffered some financial setbacks and was forced to liquidate two automobiles. In 1920 a successful lawsuit by a former associate, Dock Rowen, forced several of Bluitt’s remaining properties to be sold in a sheriff’s sale to the plaintiff for $100. During this period, Bluitt moved to Chicago where he headed the staff of the Fort Dearborn Hospital. His reasons for moving to Chicago are unknown although it could have been related to financial speculation or broader medical opportunities. In addition to his professional activities, Bluitt owned and raced racehorses; he even had one stolen in 1899.
Bluitt’s wife Cornelia died in Chicago in July 1934, and her body was interred in Dallas at the Butler L. Nelson Cemetery next to her mother-in-law Maria. In 1938 Benjamin Bluitt returned to Dallas for a commemoration ceremony celebrating his career of fifty years in the medical profession. There is no record that Bluitt returned to Dallas again after this. He married a woman named Geneva, but the marriage was short-lived; she died of tuberculosis in January 1940 at the age of twenty-eight. Bluitt died of stomach cancer in Chicago on March 14, 1946. He was eighty-one. His death certificate confirms that he was married for a third time to Violet, who was twenty-three at the time of his death. He was buried at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Chicago. The Bluitt Sanitarium is now a city of Dallas landmark, and in 2006 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Bluitt Street in the Lincoln Addition of South Dallas and the “Bluitt-Flowers Health Center” in South Oak Cliff also commemorate Benjamin Bluitt.